Senior Health

Helping Families Combat Elder Abuse

Our nation is experiencing a crisis that is ­ shockingly — a dirty little secret few of us seem to want to know about.  Officials report that 90 percent of elder abuse actually is occurring in homes, not in institutions. And, unlike accidents, and lack of know-how, elder abuse is intentional, taking the form of physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse/neglect, or a combination of these, and apparently it has become rampant in our parents¹ homes.

There is a huge gap between the idealized versions of older Americans ³aging in place² and the harsh realities of 21st century living.

Ninety percent of Americans over sixty say they want to remain living in their homes. If you are part of the one in four families who have seniors depending on you, you are probably struggling to find the time and money to keep your loved ones out of institutions. You are wanting to discover how to navigate the myriad governmental programs, health issues and emotional challenges of role reversal, while asking: what will it take for my parents to be able to stay safely and actively involved in their home, community and their own lives?

As a nation we need to make it a priority to better educate, better pay and better treat those who are caring for our loved ones.  Recently the Los Angeles City Council approved landmark legislation that raises the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 and we are proud of our City Council for doing so.  We urge other legislative bodies to insist that there be better pay and also more relevant training for those caring for our seniors at home ­ both the paid and unpaid caregivers.

But with in-home care most frequently provided from a combination of paid and voluntary  — usually family — support, how will many of our aging population or their middle-aged children be able to afford the care and “senior-proofing” their environments and lives will need in order to “age in place” at home?

Moreover our homes are hardly the safe havens for older Americans we may have imagined or would want them to be!   The repeating dangers of living at home include: falls related to clutter, random rugs and insufficient equipment such as grab bars; living under the radar of the health care system; starvation and/or malnutrition; self-neglect; and the life-threatening harm that can be associated with under-socialization.

These leading challenges of aging at home are known by geriatric experts and even though they are commonsensical, family members often have been given no training or family coaching on to how to do better.  Many of the resulting incidents, although unintentionally damaging, are tragically preventable.